“Say ‘Nevermore,'” begins one of the best pieces of dialog in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
Naturally, the conversation involves a raven, a distinctly smart and sarcastic beast. In real life, the common raven (Corvus corax) is just that: common. But it also happens to be brave, clever, resourceful, dedicated and loyal. And, in spite of being ubiquitous in places like Yellowstone, it’s often overlooked as a photo subject.
Everyone’s got crows or ravens around back home, so most Yellowstone visitors don’t think twice about taking pictures of them. But up close, this can be a rather striking bird. Big and buff, with iridescent feathers that shiny beautifully in the right light.
Ravens are interesting characters. They are expert scavengers, honing in on animal kills (or just road kill) pretty quickly. A flock of ravens perched in the trees or on the ground is a pretty good indicator that there’s a carcass around, a sign that often helps Yellowstone visitors track down wolves, bears or other predators.
Of course, they’re not averse to going after human food as well. Ravens are experts in trash pick-up, or swooping in to scavenge used picnic areas. It’s not surprising that some of the biggest, fattest ravens in the park are found around the picnic areas.
They’re incredibly smart too. Ravens and crows are considered two of the most intelligent animals on the planet. They’re great problem solvers, capable of unzipping backpacks to access snacks and food while park tourists aren’t looking.
Ravens are also rather courageous, often attacking larger predators in attempts to steal food or defend territory. It’s not uncommon to see them chasing after eagles or harassing owls. There was a story I heard this spring of a bald eagle attacking one of the ravens that had congregated near a carcass. The rest of the raven flock reacted instantly, ganging up on the eagle and driving it off, but only after getting a few good licks in.
I’ve seen ravens swoop in when they see a potential meal that could be stolen. Here, a raven arrives to scope out a red-tailed hawk that had just pounced on a rodent in the sage brush.
They know how to pick their battles though. Sometimes the raven is seen as the threat and knows when to exit an area if they’re not welcome…
Ravens aren’t only smart. They’re loyal companions. Adult ravens pair up and mate for life, often keeping the same territory for decades. It’s fun to watch a pair of ravens preening and looking after each other. They’re excellent communicators, clucking and cawing and gurgling. Those strange sounds you’re hearing from the forest may well be a raven speaking up.
So next time you see a raven, consider stopping and taking a few pictures. They’re actually pretty cool… even on bad hair days.
One of the great things about my new site’s photo archive is that you can search for specific photo subjects. See more raven photos here. And don’t forget that you can now order prints of nearly any photo in the archive.